Unexceptional Classics

Unexceptional Classifieds: Mazda MX-3 1.6i

by Antony Ingram
4 February 2022 3 min read
Unexceptional Classifieds: Mazda MX-3 1.6i
Photos: Car & Classic

Price: £4950
Mileage: 42,000
Condition: Great, even if it’s missing two cylinders
Seller: Car & Classic

In an ideal world, you’d probably have the V6. Mazda’s 1.8-litre, narrow-angle bent-six is a defining feature of its MX-3, the 1990s junior coupé that rivalled cars like the Honda CRX and Nissan 100NX, and gave it a unique selling point in a class where the only car of remotely comparable size to also offer six cylinders was the Volkswagen Corrado VR6.

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If you’ve never driven an MX-3 V6, you’ve missed out on a unique experience. The handling is neat enough – Mazda, like Peugeot, being a proponent of programmed deformation at the rear axle to help it zoom-zoom through bends with a little more finesse – but that compact V6 really is the star.

It wasn’t overly quick, then as now. Mazda quoted a nice round 100kW, or 134bhp at 6800rpm, while maximum twist of 118lb ft was developed at 5300rpm. Officially, you’d get to 62mph from rest in 8.5 seconds and stop accelerating at 126mph. That Corrado would be long gone by the time you’d attained either.

1995 Mazda MX-3

As is the case with the Mazda MX-5 though, the MX-3’s experience couldn’t be summed up in numbers. That bonsai vee was one of the smoothest engines this side of Mazda’s contemporary RX-7, feeling and sounding more like a particularly melodious turbine as it zinged around to a red line set at an even seven grand. Accompanied by a muted howl, and managed through a slick five-speed manual, it made the MX-3 feel like a miniature exotic.

But, to come back to the original point, this isn’t an ideal world, and while the V6 really is the MX-3 you’d want, Mazda did give us another, distinctly more unexceptional option.

That car was the 1.6, and using effectively a detuned and single overhead cam version of the four-cylinder engine you’d find in the MX-5, at least initially, it had neither the soundtrack nor even the fairly modest performance of the V6.

1995 Mazda MX-3 interior

In part, that’s because it was also connected to a four-speed automatic transmission. If you want to know what a slushbox does to a single-cam 16v four wheezing out 89bhp, it’s this: a 0-62mph time of 14 seconds, a full… hang on a second… 65 per cent slower than the V6.

It didn’t quite have the visual impact of the V6 either. 15-inch wheels and 205-section rubber made way for 14s and skinny 185s, the rear spoiler fell off the spec list, and it lacked the V6’s front airdam and side skirts too.

It was, in fairness, otherwise identically equipped, more fuel-efficient despite the auto ‘box (47.1mpg at 56mph, compared to 39.8mpg) and obviously it was cheaper too (£14,795 the year this car was built, to the V6’s £16,995), but it’s fair to say it didn’t exactly leap out of the showrooms.

Of course, in the year that is 2022, and within the context of Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional and the kind of cars we like to see there, Mazda’s “oh, and there’s that one over there” coupé has a chance to redeem itself – particularly so when one as tidy as this week’s classified pops up for sale.

The ad states that it’s a three-owner car from new, features a comprehensive service history for its low 42,000 miles, and comes with an MOT until September 2022, with just an oil leak to check before the next one.

If it looks as good in the metal as it does in pictures then it must be one of the tidiest ones left, certainly among the generally unloved population of 1.6s. While its leather upholstery would normally count against a base mode like this, and arguably looks a bit too “baby’s first Ferrari” combined with Mazda’s bright red paintwork, it’s the kind of rare period option that makes unexceptional cars stand out.

The asking price of £4950 seems a little strong given it’s still possible to find tidy V6s for less, but as is so often the case, the right combination of rarity, condition and options invariably commands a bit more than you’d pay for the average example. We’d still prefer the V6, even despite our penchant for the unexceptional, but this 1.6 deserves to find a good home.

Read more

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